The Olympus Pen EE-3 has become my go-to travel camera, though the hardest decision for me when taking any trip is deciding which camera to take. Many of you reading this will share this problem I’m sure. I manage to get away so infrequently that it seems a wasted opportunity if I don’t get some memorable photographs out of the trip.
So, which camera to take? There are the old favourites of course, the stalwarts that can be relied upon in any situation. If I were to play it safe then the decision would be made right there, but when you’re taking a break from your normal daily life, is it not more exciting to take a break from your normal daily camera? Next comes the latest eBay purchase. The camera that life (or at least those 5 minutes) wasn’t worth living without. Perfect, right? Wrong… It’s the dreaded unknown. What a shame it would be to take something untested and discover it leaks light like a sieve or chews up your film. Besides which, you haven’t yet found a replacement for that battery they stopped making in the 80’s.
Ok, so how about the exotica? The obscure and complicated camera that’s at least 70 years old. Sure, it’s beautiful to behold and you love it more than you love most of your immediate family members, but it’s utterly impractical – so it’s out. Perhaps it would just be better to take the full SLR kit with 18 lenses and a tripod, but once I’ve packed my underpants and toothbrush there’s just no way it’s going in my carry on luggage. Such are the problems of a gearhead. In the end then, there’s only one thing to do: relinquish control. Give yourself over to the fates and hope for the best. Enter the Olympus Pen EE-3.
The internet is abound with facts and figures about the EE-3, so I won’t repeat too much. Simply know that this little half-frame beauty is tiny, requires no batteries, has a fixed focus 28mm lens, is whisper-quiet in operation, and can cram 72 shots on to your 36 exposure roll. The only equipment required for successful operation is your eyesight and a finger, preferably your own. Add to that list the fact that it feels nicely weighted and balanced to use, I can see through the bright viewfinder with my glasses on, it slips in to even the most diminutive pocket, and is about as intimidating as a kitten, and I think we have a winner. Onwards then, to Prague!
Before I’ve even boarded the plane, the little EE-3 proves its worth as I grab this shot of a chap in the airport cafe. There was just something about the light, and the repetition of shape and shadow that made me take this picture. Having the right camera helped too. Under normal circumstances I’d have felt self-conscious pointing a camera at a stranger, but with the EE-3 it seemed so simple. All I had to do was point and shoot. The camera is so small it went unnoticed, and the near silent click of the shutter drew no attention. I simply put the camera back in my pocket and drank my tea.
Prague itself provides plenty of opportunity for whatever genre of photography floats your boat. The ancient and modern architecture, historical sights, and thousands of people going about their lives create a rich and varied tapestry through which to weave. For me however one of the most unexpected surprises of the trip was the sheer number of ancient Eastern Bloc cars wheezing around the city, driven almost exclusively by ancient, wheezing, Eastern Bloc gentlemen. I love vintage cars for (more or less) all the same reasons as I love vintage cameras, and the amount of cars I photographed on this trip provides testament to my unashamed petrolhead status.
Wafting through the city with no particular aim or destination threw the Olympus Pen EE-3 in to a variety of lighting situations. Ancient castle interiors, views across the city, and lovers on a bridge all captured for posterity. Embracing the idea of relinquishing control meant letting the EE-3 do it’s thing while I enjoyed the moments unfolding around me. Whatever the camera thought best was alright by me, and in the end the fates smiled upon me. Though such a simple camera has its limitations, almost every shot I came back with was a keeper. The exposures were generally good, and if I’d bothered to use the exposure-lock feature of the camera in tricky lighting situations, they might well have been even better. The pictures are a little grainy at times, which is likely due to a combination of a half frame negative size and expired film, but I don’t mind that. I think it suits the location.
In the end then, I think the Olympus Pen EE-3 was the right choice of camera for this trip. There are other cameras that could have achieved the same thing just as well, but that’s missing the point. As a camera geek it’s so easy to be lost in the world of gear, or to expend so much thought in capturing a moment on film that you miss the experience for yourself. This little camera provided an antidote to all of that. It’s a camera that simply gets out of your way and delivers results. It’s as intuitive to use as the hand that holds it, and certainly more pleasant to look at. After a single trip, the EE-3 has been promoted to a firm favourite, a stalwart you might say, and the whole process starts over again.